The Phenomenology of Spirit
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The Phenomenology of Spirit

G. W. F. Hegel, Peter Fuss,John Dobbins

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eBook - ePub

The Phenomenology of Spirit

G. W. F. Hegel, Peter Fuss,John Dobbins

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The Phenomenology of Spirit, first published in 1807, is G. W. F. Hegel's remarkable philosophical text that examines the dynamics of human experience from its simplest beginnings in consciousness through its development into ever more complex and self-conscious forms. The work explores the inner discovery of reason and its progressive expansion into spirit, a world of intercommunicating and interacting minds reconceiving and re-creating themselves and their reality. The Phenomenology of Spirit is a notoriously challenging and arduous text that students and scholars have been studying ever since its publication.

In this long-awaited translation, Peter Fuss and John Dobbins provide a succinct, highly informative, and readily comprehensible introduction to several key concepts in Hegel's thinking. This edition includes an extensive conceptual index, which offers easy reference to specific discussions in the text and elucidates the more subtle nuances of Hegel's concepts and word usage. This modern American English translation employs natural idioms that accurately convey what Hegel means. Throughout the book, the translators adhered to the maxim: if you want to understand Hegel, read him in the English. This book is intended for intellectuals with a vested interest in modern philosophy and history, as well as students of all levels, seeking to access or further engage with this seminal text.

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The This and Meaning

1The way of knowing that is our first or immediate object can be none other than knowing that’s itself immediate: knowledge of what’s directly present or matter-of-factly is. We accordingly have to take a direct or receptive approach, changing nothing in what’s there from the way it presents itself, apprehending it without preconceptions.
2The concrete content of sense-certainty readily appears as knowledge of the richest kind, indeed knowledge of such infinite bounty that, were we to venture out into the expanses of space and time over which its content extends, or take some portion of this plenum and delve into it bit by bit, we’d find no limit to it. Moreover, this seems the most reliable form of knowledge since, having as yet deleted nothing from the object, it has the object in its entirety right there before it.
3–Yet in fact such certainty presents itself as truth of a most paltry and abstract sort. All that it tells about what it knows is that this is; and its truth entails only the bare being of the matter, while consciousness for its part exists in this certainty only as pure I—that is, I exist here only as sheer This, and the object likewise as sheer This. I, this I, am certain of this matter at hand, not because through it I’ve undergone some sort of development or am moved to any complexity of thought, nor because this entity of which I’m certain is an aggregate of distinct properties, something comprising a rich nexus of relations either in itself or by relating variously to other things. Neither is the case with sense-certainty’s truth; neither I nor the matter at hand is here indicative of a complex mediation: the I gives no indication of involving a complex process of imagining or thinking, nor does the matter at hand give indication of having a multiplicity of properties; instead, such and such matter at hand is—and it is, simply because it is. “It is”: this is what’s of the essence to sense-knowledge. And this sheer being, [M70] this simple immediateness, is what its truth consists of. Insofar as this manner of certainty interrelates anything, it does so in a sheerly immediate way: consciousness is “I” and nothing more, a sheer This, a single being who knows a sheer this, a single particular.
4Yet as we watch, we see that a lot more is in play in the “sheer being” that constitutes this certainty’s essence and that it asserts as its truth. In actual occurrence sense-certainty isn’t just “pure immediacy,” but rather an instance of such. Throughout the countless variations of it thus encountered, we everywhere observe a fundamental incongruity: in sense-certainty both of the two thises mentioned previously (this as I and this as object) extend beyond sheer being. As we reflect upon this incongruity, it becomes evident that in sense-certainty neither this is purely immediate, but rather each is at the same time mediated. My being certain of anything is due to something besides myself, namely the matter at hand, which in turn is present in sense-certainty due to something other than it, namely the I.
5This distinction between essence and instance, immediacy and mediation, isn’t made only by us; rather do we find it in sense-certainty itself—and it’s to be taken up in the form in which it exists there rather than as we just specified it. In sense-certainty, as one this is being put forth as a simple matter of immediate fact—the essence, the object—another this is being put forth as something unessential, mediated, existing not in itself but only via something else—the I, the knowing—which knows of such and such object only because that object exists, and which could for its part be or not be. But the object, as essence and truth, exists whether known or not, and continues to exist even if not known—whereas, if there’s no object, there’s no knowing it.
6The object accordingly has to be considered as to whether it in fact exists in sense-certainty as the sort of entity the latter gives it out to be, whether this conception of it—as essence—accords with the way it is present there. To this end we don’t have to reflect on and ponder over what the object might be in truth but need [M71] only consider it as it is present in sense-certainty.
7Sense-certainty is then itself to be asked: What is this ‘this’? Taking it in the twofold form of its matter-of-fact being—as here and as now—the dialectic implicit within it will become as comprehensible in form as the this itself. To the question “What is now?” we answer, for instance, “Now is night.” To test the truth of this sensuously evident certainty a simple experiment will suffice: we write it down. A truth can lose nothing by being recorded any more than by being retained. But if now, at noon, we look again at our recorded truth, we’ll have to say that it has gone stale.
8The now that’s night is carried over, that is, treated as just what it’s given out to be, as something that matter-of-factly is—yet turns out to be something that matter-of-factly is not. The now as such does indeed endure, but as a now that isn’t night; and it likewise sustains itself in face of any day that it is, as a now that also isn’t day—as something in all instances negative. Hence this self-sustaining now isn’t immediate but mediated, being specified as an enduring and self-sustaining now by the fact that another now (day, night) is not. Thus specified, it’s just as simply now as before, and in this simplicity what’s at any time instantiative of it is a matter of indifference: as little as its being is comprised in night and in day, it nonetheless is day and night, and it’s unaffected by this its heterogeneity. A simplex entity of this sort, existing via negation, as neither this nor that but as a “non-this,” and which nonetheless is this or that indifferently, is what we call a universal—the universal being then what’s in fact true in sense-certainty.
9It’s also as a universal that we give utterance to the sensuous. We say: “this” (the universal this), or “It is” (the being of anything at all). We don’t of course envision the universal this or being at large, yet it’s the universal that we express: we simply don’t give utterance to the this as we mean it in such sense-certainty. But it is language, as we [M72] see, that’s the more truthful; in speaking, we ourselves directly refute what we thus mean. And since sense-certainty’s truth is the universal and language expresses this alone, it’s not even possible for us ever to voice any being of sense in the way that we mean it.
10The same will turn out to be the case with the other form of the this: the here. “Here is,” for instance, “a tree.” No sooner do I turn around than this truth is lost from view and the here turned into something contrary: “Here isn’t a tree, but a house.” The here itself doesn’t vanish; it continues to exist despite the vanishing of the house, tree, and so on, and is house or tree indifferently. Here again the this manifests itself as mediated simplicity, as a universal.
11So, for such sense-certainty, having shown from within that the truth of its object is the universal, ‘sheer being’ is still what it takes to be its essence—not, however, being in its immediacy but rather being to which negation and mediation are indispensable, hence no longer as what we mean by ‘being’ but rather being specified as abstract, as pure universal; and all that remains counter to this vacuous or contentually indifferent now and here is our act of meaning, for which the universal isn’t taken to be what’s true in sense-certainty.
12As we compare the initial relation of knowledge and object with that in which they’ve come to stand in this result, we see that it’s been reversed. The object that was supposedly essential is now unessential to sense-certainty, since the universal that it turned out to be is no longer what such certainty supposed it in essence to be; what’s certain is now instead located on the opposite side of the relation—in knowing—which previously was unessential. Sense-certainty’s truth now resides in the object as my [meinem] object, in what it is that I mean [Meinen]: the object exists because I know of it. Now while the certainty of sense has thus indeed been expelled from the object, it hasn’t as yet been sublated thereby, having merely been shoved over into the I. –Yet to be seen is what experience shows us about such certainty’s reality.
13The force of sense-certainty’s truth thus lies now in the I, in the [M73] directness with which I see, hear, and so on, and the ephemerality of the single nows and heres that we mean is held in check by the fact that I hold them fast. “Now it is day, because I see it,” and “Here is a tree,” for just the same reason. Yet in this relation what sense-certainty goes through internally is the very dialectic seen above. I—this I—see a tree, asserting it as here, but another I sees a house and asserts “Here’s not a tree but a house.” Authenticating both truths is one and the same thing—firsthand seeing—and both I’s are completely confident and sure of what they know, even though each vanishes in the other.
14What doesn’t vanish in this process is the I as universal, whose seeing isn’t the seeing of a tree or house, but a simplex seeing, one mediated by the negation of any given house, and so on, precisely thereby remaining simple and indifferent to whatever (tree, house, etc.) instantiates it. In all instances the I is but a universal like the now, here, or this. Of course I mean a single I; but I can’t articulate the singular by saying “I” any more than I can when I say “now” or “here.” When I say “this here,” “this now,” “this particular,” I’m saying all thises, heres, nows, all particulars, just as, when I say “I, this one and only I,” I’m still speaking of something general—all I’s—each and every one of which is what I’m giving utterance to: I, this one particular I. So when [philosophical] science is challenged with the impossible task of deducing, constructing, or determining a priori (or however one puts it) something referred to as “this” thing or “this” person, it’s only fitting that the challenger should say which ‘this thing’ or ‘this person’ is meant—although to say anything of this sort is impossible.
15Sense-certainty thus experiences that its essence is comprised neither in the object nor in the I, and that unmediatedness applies neither to the one nor to the other; for in both what I mean is instead something nonessential—object and I turning out to be universals in which the now, here, and I that I mean don’t hold their own or so much as exist. What we [M74] end up having to affirm as sense-certainty’s essence is the integral whole of sense-certainty itself, not just one or the other of its moments, as in the above cases where first the object as opposed to the I, and then the I itself, were supposed to be its reality. Thus only as such a whole does sense-certainty keep hold of itself in its unmediatedness, shutting out all the previously-met-with evidence to the contrary.
16Sheer immediacy of this sort is thus no longer concerned with the otherness experienced in a ‘here that is a tree’ turning into a ‘here that isn’t a tree,’ a ‘now that is day’ turning into a ‘now that is night,’ or in there being some other I that has something else as object. The truth of such immediacy is sustained in a static, homogeneous relating that admits of no distinction between I and object, essential and nonessential, a way of relating that’s impervious to difference. Accordingly, I—this I—assert the here to be a tree, and I don’t turn around so that for me the here isn’t a tree; I pay no attention to there being some other I that doesn’t see the here as a tree, or that at another time I myself don’t see the here as a tree or the now as day. On the contrary, I am intuition pure and simple; for my part I maintain that now is day or that here is a tree, and I don’t compare here and now with each other, but hold fast to a single straightforward relation: now is day.
17Since certainty of this sort will pay scant heed to us if we call its attention to a now that’s night or to an I for whom it’s night, we’ll go to it and let it show us the now that it affirms. And indeed we’ll have to let it just show this to us, since the truth of a manner of relating that’s as direct as this is that of an I reduced to a single now or here. Were we to take it up after the fact or stand at any distance from it, we’d miss the whole point of such truth, since we’d then have sublated the immediacy essential to it. Thus we have to enter the very same point of time or space, letting this certainty itself do the showing, letting it make us into this I that knows for sure. –So then, let’s see how the immediacy it points out to us is constituted. [M75]
18The now gets pointed out—this now: “Now!”—which even as it’s pointed out is already gone. The now that is differs from the one pointed out, and we see that the now is something that, once it is, is no more. The now as pointed out is a now that has been; and this is the truth of it; it doesn’t have the truth of being. So this much is still true: it has been. But what has been is in fact nothing that is; it isn’t—and the point at issue is, after all, what is.
19What we see in this process of pointing out is a progression along the following lines: (1) I point out the now, asserting it as what’s true, but therein show it to have been, to be nullified, and in thus sublating the first truth (2) I’m now in effect asserting as a second truth that the now has been, it having been superseded. Yet since what has been is not, I (3) am thereby also sublating the second truth (its having been, its having been thus superseded), negating the negation of the now and returning to the first assertion, that the now is. Hence the now and the process of pointing it out are such that neither is simple and direct; rather do both progress through various moments: while ‘this now’ is to be affirmed, another now turns out to be affirmed instead, with this now ending up sublated; and the being of this ‘other now’ that superseded the first ends up itself sublated in turn, hereby reverting to the first. –However, this ‘first now,’ once reflected into itself, isn’t quite the same as what it was at first, namely something immediate, being instead something indeed reflected into itself—something simplex—which remains what it is amidst its own otherness, a now that is literally any number of nows. And this is the genuine now: the now as a simplex day, which contains many nows (hours) that contain many other nows (minutes), which in turn contain still other nows. –The act of pointing out the now is thus itself a processive articulation of what the now is in truth, namely a resultant now, one comprising a multiplicity of nows apprehended together: to point out the now is to experience that the now is a universal.
20Similarly, when I hold on to some here that’s been pointed out to me—a ‘this here’—it too turns out to be not this here, but a before and behind, an above and below, a right [M76] and left. Likewise the above is itself a heterogeneous manifold of aboves, belows, and so on. The here that was supposed to be designated vanishes into other heres which themselves in turn vanish. What gets pointed out, held fast, and sustained is a negative This that is such solely in that these heres are being taken as they should be taken—yet of course are therein sublated, such a here being a simple complex of many heres. The here that was meant would be a point; but a point has no existence; when a point is nonetheless pointed out as existent, the act of pointing it out brings no direct knowledge to light, but rather progresses from some here that is meant, through many other heres, to a universal here which—just as a day is a simplex plurality of nows—is a simplex plurality of heres.
21Clearly the dialectic of sense-certainty is but the simple history of sensuous process, sensuous experience; and all that sense-certainty itself amounts to is this mere history. Natural consciousness thus keeps arriving at this result, which is what’s true in it and constitutes its experience—yet keeps forgetting this and starting the process all over again. Thus it’s astonishing when, in the face of such experience, it is persistently alleged as a matter of universal experience, even as a philosophical tenet, indeed as the ultimate conclusion of Skepticism, that the reality or being of external things taken as thises (as sense objects) has—exclusively so—truth for consciousness. To make such an assertion is not to know what one is saying, is to be unaware that one is saying the opposite of what one means to say. The truth of the sensuous ‘this’ is for consciousness supposed to be a universal experience; but what’s in fact universally experienced is quite the reverse. Each moment of consciousness sublates one such truth as ‘here is a tree’ or ‘now is noon’ and expresses one contrary to it such as ‘here isn’t a tree, but a house.’ And no sooner does this first sublative assertion affirm a new sensuous this than it too is sublated. Throughout all of sense-certainty all that’s really experienced is just what we’ve seen: the this is a universal, the complete contrary of what’s claimed in the above proposition.
22–Having thus [M77] invoked universal experience, we might take the liberty of anticipating something to be dealt with in our consideration of the practical realm. Thos...


  1. Half Title
  2. Title Page
  3. Copyright
  4. Dedication
  5. Contents
  6. Acknowledgments
  7. Translators’ Introduction
  9. Preface
  10. Introduction
  11. Chapter I.Sense-Certainty: The This and Meaning
  12. Chapter II.Perception: Things and Illusoriness
  13. Chapter III. Force and Understanding, Appearance and the Supersensuous World
  14. Chapter IV. Self-Certainty’s Truth
  15. Chapter V.Reason: Its Certainty and Its Truth
  16. Chapter VI. Spirit
  17. Chapter VII. Religion
  18. Chapter VIII. Absolute Knowing
  19. Conceptual and Topical Index
Estilos de citas para The Phenomenology of Spirit

APA 6 Citation

Hegel, G. (2019). The Phenomenology of Spirit ([edition unavailable]). University of Notre Dame Press. Retrieved from (Original work published 2019)

Chicago Citation

Hegel, G. (2019) 2019. The Phenomenology of Spirit. [Edition unavailable]. University of Notre Dame Press.

Harvard Citation

Hegel, G. (2019) The Phenomenology of Spirit. [edition unavailable]. University of Notre Dame Press. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Hegel, G. The Phenomenology of Spirit. [edition unavailable]. University of Notre Dame Press, 2019. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.